Mistranslations by Western Indologists as noted by Dr. Shankar Rajaraman

A few weeks ago, about 132 scholars from various Indian universities and institutions came together for a remarkable purpose. They signed a petition asking Rohan Murty and his father Narayana Murthy on change.org . The rally was quickly picked up by people from all over the world and soon there were more than 16,000 signatures on the petition.

The petition was about one Prof. Sheldon Pollock and Murty family giving him about 5 million USD for a humongous task of translating 500 Indian classical texts in English. Prof. Pollock may be an unheard name for most Indians, but in the elite spheres of Indian academic and politics, his name is quite well known for all the good things. He was even awarded Padma Shri by Government of India. Murty named this ambitious project as Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) and plans to flood Indian markets with these books at dirt cheap prices so that the richness of Indian literature can reach every nook and corner of India.

The problem between Pollock and the people who are opposing this generous donation by Murty family is that Western Indologists, to reason best known to them tend to misquote, misunderstand and misrepresent Indic texts. In addition to this, Pollock is a very political animal with a very strong Marxist bias and has signed various petitions against Government decisions to curb secessionist movements, but that’s secondary. He invokes upon a very niche study of political philology on Indian texts such that the sacred element in the texts are lost and it becomes a typical Marxist class struggle. In his 30+ years of scholarship, Sheldon Pollock has very adeptly deconstructed Ramayana , Rasa (aesthetics), Sanskrit as a language etc.

In this blog, I try to highlight some mistranslations and errors in such translations by Western Indologists including Pollock and surprisingly even from MCLI. This is just a compilation of others work and effort and I take no credit for most of them.


P.S. Edit 1: All of these have been posted by Dr. Shankar Rajaraman on his facebook feed.

Edit 2: It came to our notice that Dr. Shankar Rajaraman felt bad that he wasn’t properly attributed. He writes “…has examples of mistranslations mostly copied verbatim from my previous posts. The least I expect from somebody who makes use of the material I have compiled during the last few days is to acknowledge the source. Would it suffice if you just say it is a “compilation of others work and effort”?“.

We, the authors offer public unconditional apology and apologize to him for any pain caused to Dr. Rajaraman and assure that the attempt was never to appropriate his effort. We realize our mistake in not attributing fully and request that you please pardon us. As prayaschit, we are altering this blog post’s title to reflect this.


1 Sheldon Pollock’s half baked translation of verse no 99 (pp 69) from Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari; The verse is based on a series of puns that all refer simultaneously to the heroine and the lamp. Pollock has missed the pun in the pAda “”तस्या दैववशाद्दशापि चरमा प्रायः समुन्मीलति”. The words “चरमा दशा” also mean “the last wick” (as in kAlidAsa’s “निर्विष्टविषयस्नेहः स दशान्तमुपेयिवान्”, RaghuvaMSa, 12.1). His translation of this phrase (as “final hour” in “Fate would have it that her final hour is nearly upon her”, p. 89), is limited to the heroine and doesn’t connect with the lamp. Either Pollock should translate all the puns occurring in a verse or give a second meaning in the notes, not translate some puns and leave out others for readers to figure out themselves.

Reference

Pollock, S. I. (2009). Bouquet of Rasa & River of Rasa by Bhanu-datta. [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation.

2 This is how Pollock translates “गिरिशमचलकन्या तर्जयामास” (p. 16). Tarjana is to angrily point the index finger at somebody as a way of threatening them, wherefore that finger is called tarjanI. I reproduce a part of Pollock’s translation here – “She (i.e., PArvatI) thought, ——–, and she began to slap Shiva” (p. 17). Though the verse refers to “kara” (hand) rather than to “anguli” (finger), one could also threaten others by vigorously shaking a hand in front of them.

Reference

Pollock, S. I. (2009). Bouquet of Rasa & River of Rasa by Bhanu-datta. [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation

3 “For a Critical Indology” in his 1993 paper “Deep Orientalism? Notes on Sanskrit and Power Beyond the Raj” where there is a serious effort to prove some causal connection with Sanskrit and the Nazi holocaust, he writes

“Reviewing Indology in the way we have just done, we encounter a field of knowledge whose history and object both have been permeated with power. From its colonial origins in Justice Sir William to its consummation in SS Obersturmführer Wüst [“Nazi” Indologist], Sanskrit and Indian studies have contributed directly to consolidating and sustaining programs of domination. In this (noteworthy orthogenesis) these studies have recapitulated the character of their subject, that indigenous discourse of power for which Sanskrit has been one major vehicle and which has shown a notable longevity and resilience.”

“From such factors as the semantic realm of the distinction arya/anarya and the biogenetic map of inequality (along with less theorized material, from Vedic and epic literature, for instance), it may seem warranted to speak about a “pre-form of racism” in early India (Geissen 1988: 48ff.), especially in a discussion of indigenous “orientalism,” since in both its classic colonial and its National Socialist [“Nazi”] form orientalism is inseparable from racism.”

4 A verse from the रसतरङ्गिणी of भानुदत्त with an English translation by Sheldon Pollock (2009) and a Hindi one by Gopal Dutt Joshi (1974): The translations stand as proof of the knowledge gap that exists between the two translators.

The verse illustrates अपस्मार, one among the 33 व्यभिचारिभावs (transitory states) enumerated by भरत in his नाट्यशास्त्र. To understand the verse, one must be conversant with a minor episode in the रामायण in which भरत shoots an arrow at हनुमान् when the latter is returning to लङ्का carrying the mountain द्रोणगिरि in his hand. As the mountain fell from the hand of हनुमान्, the trees on the ground shook as if out of fear. The poet fancies that the trees had a bout of seizure (अपस्मार) on seeing the falling mountain. It is better to translate अपस्मार as “seizure” rather than as “possession” in the way Pollock has done. This is because adjectives that, as pointed out below, are used by the poet, refer to symptoms of seizure rather than of possession. Given within parentheses are the corresponding translations by Pollock and Joshi where the two differ and among which I endorse Joshi’s translation.

उद्वेल्लन्नवपल्लवाधररुचः – their buds, standing for lips, quivered (The pallava buds their swelling lower lips/कॉपते नव पल्लव ही उनके अधर हैं)

पर्यस्तशाखारुचः – their branch-arms extended (the tangled branches their arms/फैली हुई शाखाऍ ही भुजाऍ हैं)

We know that lips quiver, not swell, and limbs are extended, not tangled, in an episode of seizure smile emoticon

And the biggest mistake in Pollock’s translation pertains to the very subject of the seizures. While the Sanskrit original is very clear in stating that the trees had a bout of अपस्मार (अपस्मारं दधुर्भूरुहाः), Pollock makes the mountains the subject of seizures (or possession as he takes अपस्मार to be): “the mountains seemed possessed” (p. 227). There is no mention whatsoever of trees. Joshi has translated this bit correctly: “मानो वृक्ष अपस्मार से ग्रस्त हो गये” (p. 86). To add to the absurdity, Pollock states that “the mountains seemed possessed” and why? – “to behold the peak dropped by the monkey” (p. 227) smile emoticon. Joshi’s translation is “कपि के द्वारा धारण किए हुए पर्वत को गिराया जानकर”. Joshi’s notes (प्रस्तुत श्लोक में हनुमान के द्वारा ले जाए जाते हुए द्रोणाचल को भरत के द्वारा गिराए जाने के समय ——) (p. 86) correctly allude to the RAmAyaNa episode whereas Pollock’s notes (HanumAn brought to La~gkA a mountain peak with a healing herb to revive LakShmaNa) (p. 382) don’t throw any light on the context described in this verse.
Reference

Joshi, G. D. (1974). श्रीमद्भानुदत्तविरचिता रसतरङ्गिणी. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Pollock, S. I. (2009). Bouquet of Rasa & River of Rasa by Bhanu-datta. [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation.

5 Garry Tubb’s analysis of बाण’s verses in the शशिवदना meter, occurring as a part of the article “On the boldness of BANa” (pp. 308-354) in “Innovations And Turning Points: Towards A History of KAvya Literature” (2014): Tubb considers BANa’a verses as “based on the शशिवदना meter” (p. 335) (UUUU_U_UUU_UU_UU_U_U_) which they no doubt are. This is the famous CampakamAlA meter in which many Kannada and Telugu poets have composed their verses.

There are two points which Tubb raises in his article:

Point 1 –

Verses that are ascribed to BANa in anthologies (e.g,. सुभाषितरत्नकोष) , for example, the following verse

“रजनिपुरन्ध्रिरोध्रतिलकस्तिमिरद्विपयूथकेसरी

रजतमयोऽभिषेककलशः कुसुमायुधमेदिनीपतेः ।

अयमुदयाचलैकचूडामणिरभिनवदर्पणो दिशा-

मुदयति गगनसरसीहंसस्य हसन्निव विभ्रमं शशी ॥” (verse 930 in सुभाषितरत्नकोष), go against the laghu-guru pattern (that is prescribed for this meter) at specific places in a pAda. In the example given above, the first two pAdas follow the rule but the last two pAdas do not. This, Tubb considers a “bold change” (p. 338). Nowhere in the history of Sanskrit literature have poets tried to be original by breaking the rules of a vRutta in the manner described above. This would be considered a छन्दोदोष rather than a काव्यगुण. I am unsure if this could be the result of a पाठभेद or because the meter’s rhythm had still not registered in the minds of poets (कालिदास’s verses in पृथ्वी, for example, do not always abide by the rule of यति after the 8th syllable). Furthermore, Tubb brings in poetic reasons for substantiating the छन्दोदोष, commenting how “the combined effect of these three surprises (i.e., three instances when the metrical pattern has been broken) is to place the strongest possible emphasis on the beginning of the word haMsasya, —-, an emphasis that serves several poetic purposes simultaneously. It stresses the action of laughing expressed by the verbal root has/haMs —–” (p. 339). I have never seen traditional commentators searching for a suggested meaning, a ध्वनि, in instances where a छन्दोदोष is evident. In that case, all verses quoted in alaMkAraSAstra texts for illustrating various kAvyadoShas must be interpreted as examples of ध्वनि.

Point 2 – Tubb makes a lot about the instances in which poets (BANa, MAgha) have not cared to follow the rule of yati in verses that are composed in the aforementioned meter. He painstakingly notes the place of yati in each pAda of the exemplary verses that he has chosen and finds out that they don’t match even within the same verse, leave alone when one verse is compared with another composed in the same meter. He must know that चम्पकमाला/शशिवदना has a दुर्बलयति, just as वसन्ततिलका does. Breaking a yati where none practically exists is no bold step. Compare two verses in इन्द्रवज्रा, उपेन्द्रवज्रा, or वसन्ततिलका, and you will know no one cares about यति in these meters. So is the case with चम्पकमाला/शशिवदना.
Reference

Tubb, G. (2014). “On the boldness of BANa”, in Innovation and Turning Points: Towards a History of KAvya Literature, eds Y. Bronner, D. Shulman, and G. Tubb. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 308-354.

6 A translation that completely misses who is compared to what.

Today’s verse is from VedaAntadeSika’s dayASataka, translated under the name “Compassion” by Yigal Bronner and David Shulman (2009). The poem extols Lord SrinivAsa’s compassion by personifying it as a Goddess.

The verse, numbered 43 (p. 104), describes Lord SrInivAsa as a pool on the summit of the mountain VenkaTa. This pool – the Lord – is Compassion’s property (as indicated by the poet’s use of the words तावकीना दीर्घिका, “your pool”). Once the Lord has been compared to a pool, adjectives that describe the Lord are chosen in such a way that they are also descriptions of a pool. Like a pool, the Lord is also “नाभीपद्मस्फुरणसुभगा” (made pretty by a lotus at its center/made pretty by a lotus growing from the navel), नव्यनीलोत्पलाभा (endowed with the fresh beauty of blue lilies/of the same hue as that of a fresh blue lily), वेङ्कटाख्यं कमपि क्रीडाशैलं वृण्वती (Having chosen to abide in a mountain known as वेङ्कट), etc. The point is that the Lord is the pool and not his Compassion as made out by the translators. That the poet has described the Lord in the feminine gender should not come as a surprise given the fact that “दीर्घिका” – the object of comparison – is in feminine. Furthermore, the poet never once mentions the Lord’s name in this verse. The reference is everywhere to the pool alone. The reader must figure out that the pool is the Lord based on adjectives that match both.

The translators mix up the adjectives for the Lord with the Lord’s Compassion and confuse the readers. I give the original along with the translation below:

नाभीपद्मस्फुरणसुभगा नव्यनीलोत्पलाभा

क्रीडाशैलं कमपि करुणे वृण्वती वेङ्कटाख्यम् ।

शीता नित्यं प्रसदनवती श्रद्धधानावगाह्या

दिव्या काचिज्जयति महती दीर्घिका तावकीना ॥

“The lotus growing from his navel lends its sheen

to the center (*), the dark nympheas radiate

the color of his limbs, and the water (**) is cool, clear,

always inviting for those who dive in

with a ready heart. No words can capture

this pool that is you, Compassion (***).

Lucky that you chose to well up

on this playground of a mountain

that happens to be God” (p. 105)

* Whose center? What center does Compassion have?

** Whose water? What water does Compassion have?

*** करुणे तावकीना दीर्घिका means “Compassion! your pool”, not “Compassion!! You are the pool”

Note that the mountain has not been compared to anything in the original Sanskrit verse. It is just “the play-hill called वेङ्कट” (वेङ्कटाख्यं क्रीडाशैलम्). The translators, I feel, have mistaken वेङ्कट, the hill, for वेङ्कटनाथ, the Lord of the hill. To put it simply, I understand that pool=Lord while the translators mentioned above understand pool = Compassion, and hill = Lord. Unfortunately for them the adjectives used for describing the pool go well with the Lord though they should have tallied with the Lord’s Compassion.

Reference

Bronner, Y., & Shulman, D. (2009). “Self-Surrender” “Peace” “Compassion” & “The Mission of the Goose”: Poems and Prayers from South India by Appayya DIkShita, NIla.kaNtha DIkShita, & VedAnta Deshika. [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation

7 Mallinson translates mukha-vidhu (mukha-chandra) as “face of the moon” instead of moon-face in verse no. 51(p. 137), pavanadUta, thus jeopardizing the meaning of an entire verse. The verse describes how a ketakI petal (fashioned into an ear-ornament) falling from the ear of ladies during their love-sports is mistaken to be a fragment of their moon-face. The petal of ketaki (pandanus) is often compared to the crescent moon (and vice-versa), as in one of the benedictory verses of mAlatImAdhava (ketakaSikhAsandigdhamugdhendavaH). I quote a part of Mallinson’s (2006) translation here – “connoisseurs inspect it as if a single fragment of the face of the moon were before their eyes” (p. 137) – of the original “उत्पश्यन्ति —– भिन्नं साक्षादिव मुखविधोः खण्डमेकं विदग्धाः”.
ReferenceMallinson, S. R. (2006). Messenger Poems by Kali.dasa, Dhoyi & Rupa Go.svamin. [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation
8 Another verse (from Dhoyi’s PavanadUta) translated by Sir James Mallinson (2006). The translation is an example of how an entire narrative situation has been understood and interpreted wrongly.

PavanadUta – Verse 37, p. 126: The scene is set in Vijayapura, the capital city of the hero, a king from the Sena dynasty. The situation described is one in which the women of the city are playing hide-and-seek with their lovers on the attics of the city’s mansions. These women are as beautiful as the bracket figurines carved on the walls of the attics and would scarcely be found out by their lovers if they were to hide in the midst of those figurines. However, there still is a give away. If their lovers, in the course of their search, were to perchance touch their beloveds, the latter would have goosebumps all over their body and would thus be found out. Mallinson’s translation doesn’t do justice to this “story” at all. His version of the sequence of events makes no sense whatsoever. I refer below to his translation along with the Sanskrit original:

यत्सौधानामुपरि वलभीसालभञ्जीषु लीनाः

सुस्निग्धासु प्रकृतिमधुराः केलिकौतूहलेन ।

उन्नीयन्ते कथमपि रहः पाणिपङ्केरुहाग्र-

स्पर्शोद्गच्छत्पुलकमुकुलाः सुभ्रुवो वल्लभेन ॥

“Where, in attics atop mansions, gorgeous girls of artless beauty keen for some fun play hide-and-seek among lovely wooden statues and are discovered only when the touch of the petals of the lotuses held in their hands makes the hair on their lovers’ bodies stand on end” (p. 127)

According to this translation, the women who are hiding have lotuses in their hands (this is what Mallinson understands from the Sanskrit original “पाणिपङ्केरुह” though a Sanskrit compound formed of words for hand and lotus most often than not refers to a hand that is soft, etc., like a lotus rather than to a lotus held in the hand) and when the petals of these lotuses touch their husbands who are searching for them, it is they (the husbands) that have goosebumps. Carrying the absurdity further, the translator makes the claim that the ladies who are hiding are discovered by their husbands when the hair on the latter’s bodies stand on end 🙂. Firstly, the ladies would be careful not to reveal their presence to their husbands and would therefore not allow the lotuses they are carrying (even if this wrong translation of पाणिपङ्केरुह is accepted for the sake of argument as correct) to touch the bodies of their husbands who are searching for them. Secondly, how could it be possible that the goosebumps on one person’s body give away the presence of someone else? Thirdly, if the lotuses held in the hands of their beloveds (who are mistaken for bracket figurines) can cause goosebumps to appear on the bodies of their lovers, what prevents the lotuses that the bracket figurines themselves hold in their hands from causing goosebumps?
Reference

Mallinson, S. R. (2006). Messenger Poems by Kali.dasa, Dhoyi & Rupa Go.svamin. [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation.

9 Some mistakes in Sir James Mallinson’s translation of Dhoyi’s pavanadUta (published in 2006 by Clay Sanskrit Library along with the translations of MeghadUta and HaMsadUta)

Verse 15 (p. 110): A description of the river kAverI. The river’s waters are described as “bhikShApravaNamanaso’py ambu yasyA laghIyaH”. The poet has played upon the word laghIyaH that means “lighter” as well as “more worthless”. KAverI’s waters are laghIyaH (lighter/more worthless) than one whose mind is bent on begging. As one can see, there is no mention whatsoever of Siva in this phrase. Mallinson translates it as “her waters are more wholesome even than Shiva, he whose mind is bent on begging”

Verse 16 (p. 112): Description of a love-quarrel between KAverI and the ocean. In the tradition of Sanskrit poetry, it is well established that love quarrels result from the husband addressing the wife by the name of her rival. Since the ocean has many wives in the form of rivers, it is understandable that he is prone to make such as mistake. There is a specific word for making such a mistake – gotraskhalana (Gotra = name, skhalana = erring). That the ocean is known to commit the mistake of gotraskhalana is also evident if a second meaning of what gotraskhalana is is taken into account- sliding (skhalana) from mountains (gotra). The ocean’s waves, having hit the hillocks on the shore, slide down from them. Without acquainting himself with such details as to who must prostrate before whom during a love-quarrel and what the alternate meaning of gotraskhalana is, Mallison translates the phrase “SaSvadgotraskhalanajanitatrAsalolasya sindhoH” as “at her constant mistaking of his name” instead of “at his constant mistaking of her name”

Verse 27 (p. 118) – Mallinson translates ‘bhUmidevA~gganAnAm” as “the king’s harem”. Even a cursory knowledge of Sanskrit is enough to know that bhUmideva (bhUsura) stands for brAhmaNa. A king would be naradeva, not bhUmideva.

Verse 28 (p. 120) – Mallinson has got the purport of this verse completely wrong. The verse alludes to the temple of MurAri in the Suhma province. The courtesans employed in the service of the Lord are so charming that seeing them carry play lotuses in their hands, one would surely mistake them for LakShmI herself. To understand this verse, a translator must be aware of the fact that LakShmI is known by the lotus she carries in her hand. Mallinson translates pANau lIlAkamalaM asakRudyatsamIpe vahantyo lakShmISa~gkAm prakRutisubhagAH kurvate vAranAryaH as “The courtesans around the temple, with their natural beauty and the play lotuses they constantly carry in their hands, make LakShmI anxious”. The note that the author provides (‘A pun is made on LakShmI’s name Kamala, which means lotus”; p. 277) makes matters worse. LakShmI is KamalA, not kamala and the pun which the translator makes so much of has no relevance to this verse.

10 The प्रबोधचन्द्रोदय by कृष्णमिश्र is a 11th century allegorical play in which abstract concepts such as मति, विवेक, विद्या, etc. are personified. These personified concepts freely mix with concrete characters such as a king, a चार्वाक, a बौद्ध, and so on, in a narrative that finally upholds the greatness of उपनिषत् in the process of self-realization. Kapstein (2009) has translated the play for the Clay Sanskrit Library Series [Editor, Isabelle Onians; General Editor, Sheldon Pollock]

1) It seems funny to translate निद्रा as “REM sleep” (p. 39). REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is a modern scientific term borrowed from neurophysiology and allied disciplines. While निद्रा can be translated simply as “sleep”, I fail to understand this अतिप्रसङ्ग of the translator. After all we don’t translate ” सा मन्दं हसति” as “There is amild contraction of the muscles around her mouth such as Zygomaticus major and minor, etc.”.

2) क्रोध (Anger) in one of his dialogues (verse no. 31 in 2nd anka) boasts of his capacity to bring about the destruction of families, however great they may be. The exact Sanskrit words are “अपि चाहं ——– कुलानि उद्धर्तुं ईशः क्षणात्”. This has been translated as “in a flash they’re able to uproot families” (p. 85). In the place of “I” (अहं) we have “they”. It is anger that uproots families. The translation doesn’t make it clear who “they” are that uproot the families (Are “they” those that are learned, famed, etc. that uproot families? and whose families do they uproot?, their own or others’?). Given below is a part of the Sanskrit original with its English translation

अपि चाहं –

विद्यावन्त्यपि कीर्तिमन्त्यपि सदाचारावदातान्यपि

प्रोच्चैः पौरुषभूषणान्यपि कुलान्युद्धर्तुमीशः क्षणात् ॥

“As far as I’*m concerned –

Though they be learned, though they be famed,

though they be moral paragons,

Exalted adornments among even the manly,

in a flash they**’re able to uproot families.” (p. 85)

See how the construction of the sentence starts with “I”* as the subject but ends with “they”** as the subject
Reference

Kapstein, M. T. (2009). The Rise of Wisdom Moon by Krishna.mishra [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation

11 Two verses from AryAsapataSati. The pun in the first verse is wrongly translated and in the second, glossed over.

1) Verse no. 463: It is well known that कृष्ण freed the यमुना of the serpent कालिय. Govardhana makes use of the phrase “वर्जिता भुजङ्गेन” (made free of a serpent/without a paramour) to compare a girl (who is devoted to her husband alone) with the river Yamuna. Hardy translates this as “is not free from snakes” (P. 183) . Apart from the exact opposite meaning that this translation conveys, the use of “snakes” in plural when the original Sanskrit has just “भुजङ्गेन” (referring to one snake, कालिय, alone) betrays the translator’s lack of scholarship

2) Sanskrit verse: दुष्टग्रहेण गेहिनि तेन कुपुत्रेण किं प्रजातेन । भौमेनेव निजं कुलमङ्गारकवत् कृतं येन

Translation (p. 125) “O house-wife, what good is that bad son, born to you under an unfavorable asterism, who, like Mars, has reduced his own family to coals*”

कुपुत्र is not just a “bad son” but also the planet Mars, “son of earth”, कुज. Similarly अङ्गारकवत् कृतं is not just “reduced —- to coals” but also “made into one that has अङ्गारक” (अङ्गारक is another name for Mars). The translator doesn’t provide any notes that enlighten the reader about these other meanings of कुपुत्र and अङ्गारक

*When did Mars reduce his own family to coals?
Reference.

F. (2009). Seven Hundred Elegant Verses by Govardhana [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation

12 This English translation of verse 172 (p. 82) from AryAsaptaSatI will surely go down the annals of history as one of its kind. Please read and figure out if you can make anything of it. I give the translation first –

“O you whose moon-face is marked with a dot of kohl and from whose hair are trickling drops of water! Which tula* will have to be brought back to life that is burning in the fire of recent separation” (p. 83)

* Can somebody please explain what this “tula” is?

The Sanskrit verse goes thus –

कज्जलतिलककलङ्कितमुखचन्द्रे गलितसलिलकणकेशी ।

नवविरहदहनतूलो जीवयितव्यस्त्वया कतमः ॥

तूल is cotton, Dear Translator and Editors, not some peculiar object found on Indian soil for which you cannot provide an adequate translation. If English translators dare to render dharma as righteousness or morality, what problem does something as concrete as तूल pose that you have an obligation to keep it as such in the translation?
Reference

Hardy. F. (2009). Seven Hundred Elegant Verses by Govardhana [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation

13 The verse (no. 48, p. 42) describes a lover whose lady has purposefully kept his upper garment (uttarIya) with her during his previous visit so she has a chance to see him once more when he returns to take it back. His friends congratulate him telling him how he shouldn’t feel sorry for being left with a single garment now because the very fact that his beloved confiscated his upper garment is a proof of the extent to which she loves him.

I give below the original Sanskrit verse and its English translation by Hardy (2009).

अनुरक्तरामया पुनरागतये स्थापितोत्तरीयस्य ।

अप्येकवाससस्तव सर्वयुवभ्योऽधिका शोभा ॥

“Even though you go bare bodied, wearing but a single garment, to your rendezvous with an infatuated woman, you look finer than all other young men” (p. 43)

punarAgati is not rendezvous. The hero is on his way to meet her once again to get his uttarIya back. The story that is told by “स्थापितोत्तरीयस्य” finds no place in the translation and without this bit, the verse is not interesting at all.

Not sure if “अप्येकवाससः” refers to the fact that the hero is left with just one garment or that he had only one uttarIya which unfortunately has been taken away by his lover. Anybody with a vyAkhyAna who could help?

Reference

Hardy. F. (2009). Seven Hundred Elegant Verses by Govardhana [New York, NY]: New York University Press, JJC Foundation

It is time we point out pitfalls in the western approach to Sanskrit studies and don’t lap up everything that we receive from non-indigenous Sanskrit scholars as gospel truth.

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9 thoughts on “Mistranslations by Western Indologists as noted by Dr. Shankar Rajaraman

    1. Thank you. If you, as a Sanskrit scholar encounter more such glaring errors please post them here in comments and I’m sure you will find many more such bloopers.

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  1. > This is just a compilation of others work and effort and I take no credit for most of them.
    The material in this post are from Dr. Shankar Rajaraman. You must give proper attribution after permission has been obtained from him to reproduce these here.

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    1. I hope you read all of them and know that not all of them are from Dr. Rajaraman. Although, I must give him credit. Point taken.

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  2. Valid points. I expect errors to creep in even if some authentic well versed scholars of Indian subcontinent were the translators.
    One need not lose OK far but look at the interpretations and practices advocated by the enlightened folks in name of religion and spirituality.
    What would be beneficial is that the feedback is given to the authors so they can revise. Even if feedback is not accepted I am sure this can be published and be available in the public forum.
    So rather than criticize and shut down such efforts better to work towards making it better with an objective mind.
    (Can someone review current curriculum taught in schools and validate those interpretations)

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    1. Yes, Humans make mistakes. This blog is dedicated to what Dr. Shankar notices and he only points of (as far I noticed) literary errors. What about semantic ones? Sheldon Pollock opines that “..an important aspect of Rama status: his absolute heteronomy. The absolute heteronomy. The status of junior members of the Indian household was, historically, not very dissimilar to that of slaves, both with respect to the father and, again, hierarchically among themselves. More generally, like the slave, Rama is “not his own master, he is subordinate to others and cannot go where he wishes”.
      Now, that cannot be an ignorant mistake.

      Also, the call is not to shut down MCLI. Had Rohan Murty done a bit more due diligence it would have been a wonderful tool for dissemination of Indian culture. I would encourage you to read, http://swarajyamag.com/culture/rohan-murty-and-his-critics-ought-to-have-been-allies-in-battle-for-sanskrit

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      1. Rohan’s motivation to start this library is the crux and what I can identify with. Even today if I had the money and want to start such initiatives me and I am sure many I know feel more confide t in the ‘western system’ to drive things. The India we grew up with and what we see and experience today still doesn’t give the confidence that all is objective. Unfortunately most topics related to religion/culture seem to rapidly dive into political dogfights and everyone is taking sides.
        The key folks including the experts should probably advocate being on a review team for MCLI and/or publish their counter interpretations on the output. That combined with working on propagating indian literature in education curriculum should help much more than petitions and agitations.

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